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University, Industry Labs Partner on Bioprinted Tissue

lung illustration

(Kai Stachowiak, Pixabay)

10 May 2018. A joint project between Indiana University and the company Lung Biotechnology is investigating three-dimensional bioprinting to produce animal tissue for research on organ transplantation, and eventually for transplants themselves. Indiana University’s medical school in Bloomington is undertaking a $9 million sponsored research agreement with Lung Biotechnology in Silver Spring, Maryland, a subsidiary of United Therapeutics Corporation.

The research is led by Burcin Ekser, a professor of surgery at Indiana and a specialist in xenotransplantation, the transplanting of tissues and organs between species. Ekser’s lab also studies genetic engineering and production of engineered tissue using 3-D printing. Much of the lab’s work is designed to address the growing need for replacement organs. The Organ Procurement and Transplantation Network says as of today, nearly 115,000 individuals need an organ transplant, with almost 75,000 people on active waiting lists. As April 2018, however, only about 4,100 donors are available, making alternatives such as xenotransplantation and engineered tissue more critical.

Lung Biotechnology is developing treatments for pulmonary arterial hypertension, a condition where small blood vessels in the lungs become scarred and narrow, creating resistance to blood flow in the lungs. Because of the limited blood flow, lung functioning becomes impaired, often leading to heart disease. While pulmonary arterial hypertension is considered a rare condition, its symptoms are not unique, thus it is not often diagnosed until in late and more dangerous stages.

One of the treatment options for pulmonary arterial hypertension, particularly in late stages, is a lung transplant. But like other organ transplants, the number of patients in need of donated organs far exceeds the supply. As a result, Lung Biotechnology’s work includes research on lung transplants, including xenotransplantation as an option.

The agreement calls for the university and Lung Biotechnology to collaborate on producing 3-D tissue using the medical school’s advanced tissue printing technology. That technology is a Regenova 3-D bioprinter, acquired 2 years ago that prints engineered tissue with cells alone, and without supporting scaffolds or gels. The printer, made by the Japanese company Cyfuse, arrays tightly-packed cells on thin needles that enable the cells to form into tissue, after which the needles are removed.

The printing itself is guided by robots that dispense tiny spheres each with about 20,000 cells. The configuration of spheres and cells varies depending on the type of tissue produced. Indiana is one of only two sites in the U.S. with this device.

Ekser and colleagues used the system to produce 3-D pig liver tissue, which they configured into a liver model that functioned for one week. The researchers plan to create a library of pig genes and traits associated with those genes. Ekser notes in a university statement that this research makes it possible to quickly test different genetic combinations to produce tissue that works for patients. “That’s the reason that we do 3-D bioprinting in xenotransplantation research,” says Ekser. “It saves lives, saves money, saves time, saves effort, and it still gives us the answers we want.”

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